As an addendum to today's story, Cardinal Innovations spokeswoman Rachel Porter confirmed after deadline Tuesday that her agency—known in official lingo as a managed care organization—does indeed receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
That information is key because it confirms the state-funded Cardinal Innovations, formerly known as Piedmont Behavioral Health, is subject to the findings of a federal investigation into whether Cardinal has broken federal law by denying mental health care reimbursements for the treatment of undocumented immigrants in its 15-county service area, which includes Orange and Chatham counties.
As reported in today's INDY Week, HHS' Office for Civil Rights is probing the Kannapolis-based organization. Latino advocates say Cardinal's policy is effectively cutting off treatment for the undocumented community, a possible violation of federal discrimination laws.
Managed care organizations such as Cardinal Innovations are tasked with disbursing state mental health care dollars for the treatment of low-income residents. Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid cash. But the state has deployed an alternate form of funding, known as integrated payment and reporting system (IPRS) dollars, to cover Medicaid gaps in the past.
Activists say Cardinal Innovations is declining the use of IPRS funds for that purpose today, and the impact has been felt in nonprofit organizations such as El Futuro that offer mental health care and substance abuse treatment for the undocumented community.
If the Office for Civil Rights inquiry finds Cardinal Innovations in the wrong, Cardinal can be forced to alter its policy or risk losing federal funding. Porter could not specify how much HHS funding the agency receives as of Tuesday night.
For the liberals out there: Rachel Maddow—the oh-so-sharp host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show"—has heard your cries.
On Thursday's show, Maddow panned the ominously-numbered Senate Bill 666, a measure that—for all intents and purposes—appears geared to curb North Carolina's college vote. In case you don't remember, college students made up a key demographic in North Carolina's Democratic election victories of 2008.
The Maddow gem from Thursday's broadcast?
"Do yourself a favor and go set your Google news alert to North Carolina Republicans. They have completely unchecked power right now, and their ideas about how to use that power are, as the political scientists say, rather amazeballs."
For people who don't know what "amazeballs" means, it's a trendy way of saying something is amazing.
The legislation, filed last week by eastern North Carolina Republican Bill Cook, strips tax deductions from parents of college students who choose to vote where they go to school. The measure also requires voters to register in the same county where their vehicles are registered, another shot at college students who retain vehicle registration in their home counties.
Watch Maddow's comments here:
Some of the most inflammatory entries on N.C. Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack's blog—in which right-wingers posing as long-dead founding fathers take shots at their political enemies—are, as of this writing, down. The posts were among those cited in this week's story, in which Womack was outed as an author.
Those posts included sharp attacks on former Lee County blogger Keith Clark, a Womack enemy, that labeled him a "psychopathic liar," a "pitiful and desperate person," "fat," and a "freak." One post, apparently written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, includes unproven allegations that Clark faked a mental illness in order to receive disability checks.
Don't worry, you can't see them there, but you can still see them below.
In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the lawmaker who appointed Womack to the pivotal Mining and Energy Commission, has yet to comment.
"This is simple," began state Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton at a commerce committee meeting yesterday. "This country needs the energy and this state needs the jobs."
Newton, who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, is a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to begin in North Carolina in early 2015. Despite substantial opposition from environmental groups and landowners concerned about impacts on their properties, the bill is moving quickly through the legislature under the cheery alias, the Domestic Energy Jobs Act.
The new bill revamps last year's fracking measure, SB 820, by deleting a number of important regulatory safeguards. In other states, such as Pennsylvania, contamination in drinking water wells, in rivers and at wastewater treatment plants have been linked to nearby fracking operations.
For bill supporters, fracking represents an opportunity for economic growth. They anticipate the creation of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly related to the energy industry, taking cues from boom towns in North Dakota and Texas.
Newton, who asserted estimates of 15 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas underfoot, treats the bill as a message to energy companies. "North Carolina is ready to do business. We want their investment— we're ready to create jobs."
However, as INDY Week has reported, the number of jobs and amount of accessible natural gas is unknown—and highly speculative.
Opponents question whether the state's shale resources are really as "abundant" as Newton claims, which fuels skepticism on job prospects. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who opposes the bill, noted after the meeting that some estimates show fracking would produce a relatively measly 500 jobs. And it is unknown how many of those jobs would go to North Carolinians.
The regulatory changes are the most troubling aspects of the bill.
Among the changes, the bill removes the requirement for a state geologist on the Mining and Energy Commission. "N.C.'s unique geologic features are at the heart of devising a safe regulatory framework," wrote Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club, in an email.
It also removes requirements for representatives from the Environmental Management Commission and the Commission for Public Health. McKissick questioned the wisdom of eliminating representatives with expertise in air and water pollution and waste management.
Newton said the requirements presented a "conflict of interest" and are "too restrictive and too difficult" to achieve.
It’s ironic that Newton is concerned with conflicts of interest because the Mining and Energy Commission, tasked with preparing regulations for fracking, is packed with energy and fracking interests.
The bill also incorporates changes that will affect:
Has Gov. Pat McCrory been hypnotized by The Beverly Hillbillies?
Specifically, the opening sequence in which Jed Clampett Is "shootin' at some food" when, as the ballad goes, "up through the ground came a bubblin' crude."
Oil, that is, black gold, "Texas Tea."
You might think McCrory has drunk the Texas Tea if you heard him crow about the financial benefits of tracking offshore drilling in his State of the State address last night: "Think what we can do with future revenue."
Yes, let's think about it: Besides the obvious environmental hazards (have we forgotten the BP disaster already?), it is unknown how much "economically recoverable" deposits—those that can be accessed cheaply enough for energy companies to turn a profit— lie in federal waters in the mid-Atlantic. (Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles from shore, yet fall under a state's administrative areas.)
Even if sizable deposits were discovered, it would require a change in federal law for North Carolina or any mid-Atlantic state to receive royalties. Currently, only the Gulf states and Alaska share in revenue from drilling operations in federal waters; lawmakers from those states are lobbying for more money from the feds.
And as the INDY reported in 2010 in a story about the prospects of off-shore drilling, those discoveries would only briefly sate Americans' appetite for oil and gas. Overall, Americans use about 840 million gallons of oil per day, according to the Energy Information Agency, meaning even on the high end, the amount of oil in the mid-Atlantic would feed our habit for roughly seven weeks. As for natural gas, the deposits would provide about six months' worth.
McCrory's push to put rigs in the Atlantic is in part a response to last year's Senate Bill 709, which Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed. That bill would have requested Perdue to join a compact with other states, including Virginia and South Carolina to develop and implement a strategy to increase exploration and production of offshore oil and gas.” In his State of the State address, McCrory said he would enter into such an agreement.
Inland, where fracking could begin as early as next year, preliminary estimates of North Carolina's gas potential are "wildly optimistic," according to Ken Taylor, assistant state geologist with the N.C. geological survey.
(Senate Bill 76, the Domestic Jobs Act, will be heard in the Commerce Committee today at 11 a.m. in Room 1027 of the Legislative Building.)
And as INDY Week reported last spring, an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources study showed that drilling activities in the 59,000-acre Sanford sub-basin would sustain an annual average of 387 jobs over seven years, peaking with 858 jobs in year six. These jobs would be temporary and it would be unlikely that highest-paying positions for experienced drillers would go to North Carolinians, who have not been trained for that work.
So, governor, set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y'all come back now, y'hear?
Those troubled by Gov. Pat McCrory's far-right appointments and statements in recent weeks will find more to wail about in at least one of the governor's prospective appointments to the N.C. State Board of Education.
McCrory's nominations include former U.S. Congressman Bill Cobey, a Chapel Hill resident who currently sits as vice chairman for the Jesse Helms Center's operating board in Wingate. Yes, that Jesse Helms.
From its website, the Union County center, which acts as something of a museum in Helms' native county, is pledged to promoting "traditional American values and the principles upon which our nation was founded and that Senator Helms advanced throughout his career."
Cobey, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-1980s, is a former chairman of the state Republican Party. His experience also includes time in former Gov. Jim Martin's administration, serving as deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, and then as secretary of the state Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources.
Cobey also acted as state campaign chief for presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in North Carolina. Huckabee is, you know, not a moderate.
The appointment, which must be confirmed by the N.C. General Assembly, would last through March 2019.
You might have seen this one coming.
Chapel Hill Town Council members on Wednesday tapped former (well, not anymore) Councilwoman Sally Greene to fill the panel's vacant seat. The seat has been open since Penny Rich departed to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners last month.
Greene seemed the frontrunner coming into Wednesday's meeting. She was a popular councilwoman from 2003 until 2011, when she stepped down reportedly to focus on her work at UNC's Center for the Study of the American South.
Town leaders were also expected to be under pressure to appoint a woman to replace Rich, because Rich's departure left only two women, Laurin Easthom and Donna Bell, on the nine-member council.
George Cianciolo, a Duke University associate research professor who co-chaired development of Chapel Hill 2020, initially seemed the favorite when he announced his interest last year. But Cianciolo bowed out and threw his support behind the former councilwoman in November when Greene indicated she would apply for the seat.
Greene was one of 11 seeking the vacant seat. In her application, Greene said she would focus on affordable housing, the public library and local homelessness. Read her application in full here.
Today’s Democracy NC analysis of the 2012 election results by gender, race and age has yielded some predictable results, but also some surprises.
The predictable: A majority of voters in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties chose President Obama over Mitt Romney. The race was close in Chatham County where Obama slipped under the wire by about 1,700 votes; however, the president won decisively in Durham County, by more than 77,000 votes.
The surprise: Wake County went for Obama by about 50,000 votes, but it also had the second-highest Republican voter turnout in the state after Mecklenburg County. Wake County also cast the most ballots statewide (488,599) and saw the third-best turnout among registered voters in the state.
First place for voter turnout goes to Chatham County, where more than three-quarters of registered voters cast ballots, compared to 68.3 percent of the state total. Chatham also had the second-highest turnout of African American voters at 76.6 percent, against a statewide 70.2 percent.
Both Wake and Chatham saw the highest registered voter turnout among women, with 76.3 percent and 76.8 percent respectively, compared with a statewide turnout of 69 percent.
Women voted in greater numbers than men in every county in North Carolina, though in Chatham, white women voted at a slightly lower percentage than white men, 76.8 percent to 76.9 percent.
Overall, black women and Republican men cast ballots at the highest proportions statewide, (74.4 percent and 72.2 percent respectively). Only in Orange County did black women vote at a lower rate (73.4 percent) than the state percentage. In Durham and Orange counties, both traditional Democratic strongholds, Republican men voted below the state percentage, at 67 percent and 66.8 percent.
Wake and Chatham counties saw the highest turnouts for voters over 65 in the state. Overall, seniors voted at higher rates than any other age group. In Durham and Orange however, people ages 18 to 25 cast more ballots than seniors, though seniors outvoted them proportionally.
Gov. Pat McCrory picks so many winners he should play the ponies.
ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, is composed of at least 300 corporations and 2,000 legislative embers and is funded in part through grants by right-wing organizations, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
Corporate members pay as much as $25,000 a year to belong to ALEC, with additional fees assessed if the members sit on one of the nine task forces. Legislators pay just $50 annually, according to the watchdog group, ALEC Exposed.
ALEC advances its agenda through “model bills,” legislation crafted by business interests and their lawmaker allies that are then introduced in multiple states.
Previous bills include opposing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, legalizing fracking, privatizing education, fighting against public health care and bans on semi-automatic firearms.
Until last year, Steen had represented Rowan County in the N.C. House of Representatives for four terms. He had higher aspirations for Congress that were quickly dashed when he placed fourth in a five-way race for U.S. House in the Eighth District.
While in the N.C. House, Steen was a primary or co-sponsor on 54 bills, including several that failed: “Protect Health Care Freedom,” which opposed Obamacare; a bill that would have allowed employees to keep loaded firearms in their cars—as long as the cars were locked, and another measure allowing persons with concealed handgun permits to bring a firearm into a restaurant.
Steen also was among the lawmakers behind successful measures such as the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which requires women to view an ultrasound of the fetus and to look at pictures and drawings of fetuses before undergoing an abortion.
John Skvarla, the newly anointed Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has publicly stated that under his watch, regulations—and the relaxation thereof—will be grounded in science and fact.
In an illuminating interview with WRAL’s Laura Leslie, Skvarla failed the scientific sniff test. (The portions referenced below begin around 11:21.)
First, Skvarla insinuated that oil and gas are infinite, renewable resources. When Leslie noted that these fossil fuels are not renewable, he replied, “Some people would disagree with you. The Russians, for example, have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource … There is a lot of different scientific opinion on that.”
The abiotic theory of oil, as it’s known, holds that oil is naturally produced deep underground rather than is converted from decomposed and organic material, such as plants and prehistoric forests. Abioticians (We made up that word—why not, if you can make up science?) use this theory to support the idea that we need not wean ourselves off fossil fuels because they’ll never run out.
Creationists have latched on to the theory as way to prove the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Now Skvarla is right in that the Russians proposed this theory in the 19th century, but it has gained no legitimate, scientific consensus. That didn’t stop astronomer Thomas Gold, who revived the theory in a 1998 book.
In 2005, abiotics was explored again in Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil by Jerome Corsi and Craig R. Smith, neither of whom is a scientist.
(Corsi has a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Smith is chairman of Swiss America Trading Corporation, an investment firm specializing in U.S. gold and silver coins.)
INDY Week called Dr. John Rogers, UNC professor emeritus of geology, about abiotics. He says the idea that oil and gas are renewable resources is incorrect. “Abiotic oil is another idea that conservatives have latched onto as a way of denying that there is any limitation that the Earth places on the way we live,” Rogers says.
“The idea that there is carbon deep in the Earth is true,” he adds. “The problem is that there is very little in the deep crust in comparison to the oil that has been found and produced by decomposition.”
Rogers, who is writing a book, Rational Environmentalism, taught at UNC from 1975—1997. He says the anti-science movement has strengthened in recent years because of greed.
“If you accept the idea that the Earth puts limits on itself, you have to understand science. We can’t simply manipulate our way to wealth,” he says. “And the modern feeling is that all we have to do is adjust taxes and laws and we will be become rich.”
While we’re comparing credentials—Rogers being a geologist and Corsi being a political scientist—it should be noted that Corsi also pens columns for the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which often trafficks in conspiracy theories and misinformation. WND published the Black Gold book.
Corsi’s previous work includes two books attacking Democrats, including The Obama Nation. A bestseller, it was widely criticized for serious inaccuracies, including that Obama could claim to be a Kenyan citizen and that he was once a practicing Muslim.
Factcheck.org, which is based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, judged it to be “what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from ehre and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy. … A comprehensive review of all the false claims in Corsi's book would itself be a book,” Joe Miller wrote on the Factcheck.org website.
These are the minds from which abiotics sprang—and our new Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources is parading around a scientifically bereft theory.
But wait, there’s more.